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up to the board of elders and they would have total veto power.’’ IN the rehearsal room Yovich climbs around the shell of her cart, fashioned from a rusty ute, as she practises her part. She speaks the lines of her character with resolve: ‘‘ My kids were so hungry that I drove straight through the middle of the battlefields of Kalkadoon, Mount Isa, with 50 loaves of mouldy bread to sell to the enemy.’’
Last year, Yovich announced she had quit playing Aboriginal roles because she was tired of being typecast because of her race. She had just finished performing in Stephen Page’s Bloodland, a play about dysfunction and grief in an Aboriginal community.
‘‘ It’s not that I don’t want to do Aboriginal roles; it’s who I am,’’ Yovich says. ‘‘ But to continue doing the stereotypical roles can be quite difficult. Psychologically you start to think: is that all people see me as?’’
She agreed to star in Mother Courage because she feels the moral ambiguity around mining is an important issue for Australia. ‘‘ As much as there are times when I say I really don’t want to do any more Aboriginal plays, I understand there are a lot of stories out there that still need to be told,’’ she says.
Mother Courage and The Shadow King deliberately rely on all-indigenous casts. ‘‘ It’s intentional colour casting,’’ Kantor says.
At Malthouse late last month, a group of Aboriginal actors — including Rarriwuy Hick, Djamangi Gaykamangu and Frances Djulibing — were left standing outside the theatre when taxi drivers refused to pick them up. A flood of letters and emails declaring outrage and support were sent to the theatre after the incident. Some people even offered to drive the actors to and from the Malthouse.
‘‘ Unfortunately, (the incident) is not that unbelievable,’’ Kantor says. ‘‘ It’s an experience that’s been shared by a lot of indigenous people in Melbourne. The taxi industry has some soul searching to do.’’
The actors had been in Melbourne to workshop The Shadow King, Kantor’s adaptation of Shakespeare’s play with Lewis, a Katherine-based actor who starred in the 1978 film The Chant of Jimmie Blacksmith. The pair have adapted the play into plain English and Kriol, leaving just five lines of the original text intact. Cast members will also speak in their own languages during the play.
Kantor and Lewis started working on the play several years ago after agreeing Lear was ripe for an indigenous telling because it is essentially about land.
‘‘ We call upon the hurricanes and winds of Lear’s fight with the storms and nature as much as indigenous people call on their conversations with the land, the birds and their ancestors,’’ Kantor says. ‘‘ Lear is about who can have the hubris and audacity to claim they own the land. It’s the antithesis of how indigenous people think of the land: the land is not something that can be owned, the land owns them.’’
The adaptation leaves the story-line intact but, as in Mother Courage, it will explore moral issues around mining through aesthetic elements. Set in northern Australia, the story will unfold on a stage covered in red earth with a large steel machine-like structure as the central prop.
Lewis, who will wear the crown, says the production will ‘‘ paint the story of country’’ while following the broad contours of Shakespeare’s original story. Ultimately, he says the play is a cultural exchange. ‘‘ Languages should be like flowers,’’ he says. ‘‘ It trains our mob, on either side, to understand theatre more.’’